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Ken Borland

Sharks confirm worst-kept secret of Bok trio’s departure 0

Posted on November 24, 2016 by Ken


The Sharks have finally confirmed one of their worst-kept secrets and announced that Saturday’s SuperRugby match against the Stormers in Durban will be the last in Black and White for the Springbok trio of Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts.

As reported in The Citizen on May 19, the Sharks have been unable to hang on to the trio of hard men, who will all be heading for the riches of France after the World Cup. Loose forward Alberts is heading to Stade Francais, while the Du Plessis brothers will be going to Montpellier for a potentially awkward reunion with Jake White.

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis has been at the Sharks for 11 years and is their most-capped Super Rugby player, due to finish on 130 appearances after the Stormers game. Jannie joined the Sharks in 2008 and has 117 Super Rugby caps for the KwaZulu-Natalians, while Alberts arrived in Durban from the Lions in 2010 and made 72 appearances.

Chief executive John Smit told the Sharks website that it had been a privilege to have the trio in Durban.

“These three gents have played an instrumental and invaluable role at the Sharks over the years. It is naturally disappointing to lose players of this calibre that have given so much to Sharks rugby. As in many senior statesmen’s careers, they felt the time was right to experience something different abroad.

“We will never forget the many courageous performances from these three players, the countless outstanding performances and steals from Bissy, the rock-solid anchor at tighthead in Jannie and the enforcer in Willem. Not to mention Jannie playing the victorious Currie Cup final in 2013 with a broken hand.

“On behalf of the Sharks, I take this opportunity to thank them for their dedication, commitment and outstanding contribution to the franchise. We wish them and their families the very best for this new chapter they are embarking on,” Smit said.

Waratahs powerhouse Jacques Potgieter and newly-signed former Cheetahs and Biarritz loose forward Philip van der Walt will fill in for Alberts, but at the moment the Du Plessis brothers will have to be replaced by home-grown talent.



Held together by bandages & gauze, but Jannie still relishes the challenge 0

Posted on November 16, 2016 by Ken


The tight five is characteristically the place where the players are held together by bandages and gauze, such is the high-impact workload they have to shoulder in rugby seasons that are just getting longer and harder. But there’s one man in the Springbok pack who has been particularly burdened with a massive workload, and that is tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis.

The 30-year-old played in every SuperRugby match last year and in all 16 games for the Sharks this year, as well as every Test in 2012 and all three in 2013 thus far. But Du Plessis, a qualified medical doctor, says he’s relishing the challenge.

“I hope I become like leather: you know, the more you use it, the tougher and better it becomes. I don’t want to tempt fate and say I’m playing so much that I’m going to break down. I want to play 40 games a year for the next five years,” Du Plessis said after the Springboks’ training session in Fourways on Wednesday.

While the scrummaging skills and experience of the Bethlehem-born Du Plessis are invaluable in the crucial tighthead position – many ex-forwards say it’s the first position that should be chosen in a team – the other reason for why the Grey College-product is hogging the number three jersey is the lack of depth in his position in the country.

The current Springbok squad has five props in it and Du Plessis is the only one who can be regarded as a specialist tighthead, the foundation of a solid scrum.

The Springbok brains trust have identified Coenie Oosthuizen, the Cheetahs loosehead, as the next best tighthead in the land and coach Heyneke Meyer said the lack of depth has left him little choice but to develop the 24-year-old as the next choice number three for the 2015 World Cup.

“I truly believe we are in trouble with tightheads in South Africa,” Meyer said. “If you look at it, most of the guys are injured and at one stage we had the best tightheads in the world, but now there are a lot of inexperienced guys playing there.

“We feel Coenie is the second tighthead in the squad and we need to give him some game time. A tighthead is like great wine, it only gets better with time. Coenie is only 24 and we need someone who is the next tighthead who has time to develop and will be there for a long time.

“If Coenie doesn’t play there in Test match rugby, he won’t be right for the next World Cup. With Gurthro Steenkamp and Trevor Nyakane, they are great impact players, and we have a lot of looseheads with Beast as well. But we’re under pressure on the tighthead side,” Meyer said.

But there is also a lot of anti-Coenie-at-tighthead feeling around rugby circles, with many wondering why Cheetahs number three Lourens Adriaanse, an unused member of the Springbok squad in June, or impressive Sharks youngster Wiehahn Herbst aren’t given a chance.

Tighthead prop is a specialist position, like hooker or scrumhalf, and what Meyer is doing is a bit like trying to convert your second-choice outside centre into a scrumhalf just because he’s a great player. Coaches have to make tough decisions and, however brilliant Oosthuizen is and however much depth there is at loosehead, you can only have two in a match-day squad. Trying to turn a loosehead into a tighthead is fraught with danger, as we saw with previous coach Peter de Villiers’ unsuccessful attempts with John Smit.

Although Oosthuizen is an ox of a man – weighing 125kg and standing 1.83m – tighthead is a highly technical position where size and strength are not enough on their own.

Ask Jannie du Plessis himself.

“It is really flipping difficult to change from loosehead to tighthead, ask the looseheads who’ve tried. It’s a completely different position with a different set of skills. But I hope Coenie does well in the position, he’s done well enough when he has come on at tighthead, so then everyone won’t make such a big thing about it and me playing every game,” Du Plessis said.

The other problem with Oosthuizen playing tighthead is that he will be stuck in the scrum for longer and the Springboks stand to dilute two of his major weapons – his exceptional ability in carrying the ball and the pressure he brings to the breakdown.

And Oosthuizen’s switch is happening at a time of great uncertainty amongst front-rankers with the new scrum rules coming into effect for the Rugby Championship.

After protests over the number of collapsed scrums, the International Rugby Board [IRB] have introduced new calls governing the engagement. The new sequence is “crouch, bind, set”, requiring the props to bind before the scrum sets.

But the IRB, in their wisdom, have introduced the new protocol at Test level as well, without trialling it first in SuperRugby. So the top players in the Southern Hemisphere are all going into a crucial part of the game, for which match-swinging penalties are often given, blind, without any competitive experience of the changes.

“The scrums are an uncertainty for us. You have to play the cards that are dealt you, but the situation is that this is the first time in a Test series where we play the new rules. This year we are going straight into the new rules and we don’t know what to expect,” Meyer admitted.

Du Plessis, who has seen most things in the dark and dingy world of scrums, thinks even these new rules might not last.

“Normally you have a few games to get used to new laws, like they did with the ELVs. But the challenge now is to adapt right away. It might be a shambles and then they change it again.

“Since I started playing, this will be the sixth or seventh change to the scrum laws, so they are definitely chopping and changing and maybe they are scratching a place where it’s not itching… ” Du Plessis said.

The major difference that front-rankers will experience, with the “hit” taken out of the equation, is that scrums are going to last much longer now, according to Du Plessis.

“It’s going to be a big change. In the past you relied on speed because the gap between the front rows was big. Now because you’re binding first, you are much closer together and you can’t rely on speed.

“Scrums are going to be about generating more power and they will last much longer, so we’ll have to work harder. It won’t be so much about power and speed and more about endurance.

“They’ve said the scrum has to be steady now and they’re going to force scrumhalves to put the ball in straight, but it sounds like election promises to me: we hear that every year,” Du Plessis said.

Jannie Dup says criticism made him tough but hurt his loved ones 0

Posted on September 03, 2015 by Ken


Stalwart Springbok prop Jannie du Plessis described the criticism he has had to face this year as character-building for him but extremely hurtful for his loved ones despite earning his place in the squad for a third World Cup appearance.

Du Plessis struggled for form during the Super Rugby competition as part of a dismal Sharks’ campaign, but as soon as the international season began, the 32-year-old confirmed that he is indisputably South Africa’s number one tighthead prop with a couple of powerful displays. He shrugged off suggestions that he was merely peaking at the right time.

“I think it’s by grace that I’m playing well now, I didn’t try any less hard at the start of the season. I want to see any player that doesn’t try his best whenever he runs out on to the field. I thought that the Sharks would actually win Super Rugby, we were experienced enough and we worked incredibly hard. Things just didn’t happen for us, so many games we could’ve won but it’s an unforgiving competition and just one missed tackle can mean you lose by two points. And then you play another top team and before you know it you’ve lost three in a row …

“So it was a disappointing Super Rugby season even though I put my heart and soul into it. You try not to listen when people call you too old or terrible. The humiliation makes you tough but it’s very hard for the people you care about; people say such bad things. So you do sit and reflect and think maybe it’s time to call it quits …

“But at the start of the Test season, the coach [Heyneke Meyer] told us a story about how things have different value for different people – a ring might just be stainless steel, but if it was your father’s wedding ring then it will have immense value for you. My effort has been no different and I’m happy with the faith the coach has shown in me and I believe we will win the World Cup,” Du Plessis said.

The veteran of 64 Tests said the thought of proving the critics wrong was also part of the motivation he felt before the tournament, where he and Bismarck will become the first pair of brothers to appear in three World Cups.

“You always feel under pressure because people have expectations and as a rugby player you always want to make people feel better. Everyone reacts in a similar way to criticism and that is to prove it wrong. But you learn how to discern between good criticism and bad criticism the older you get. Some people just don’t like the way you look, the way you talk or even just your hairstyle, so they’re going to criticise regardless,” Du Plessis said.


Bok front row is top-class – Matfield 0

Posted on August 29, 2014 by Ken

Victor Matfield said on Friday that the Sharks front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis is a top-class unit and their struggles in the Springbok scrums against Argentina last weekend was just a case of a bad day at the office.

The Springboks were given a torrid time in the scrums by a fearsome Argentinian unit and, although that set-piece has been a focus of the team this week, Matfield said he expected a much-improved performance next weekend against Australia in Perth.

“It’s just one game that our scrum wasn’t good enough. But they are all fantastic players, the Sharks have had the best front row and they were all brilliant for the Springboks last year. I’m sure they will bounce back.

“The set-piece is a very important part of the game and the only way to fix it is out on the training field. We’ve looked at the video and we’ve been scrumming yesterday and today and will also be scrumming tomorrow,” Matfield said on Friday after the Springboks returned from a lengthy training session that went on for half-an-hour longer than expected.

“The guys there were outstanding the whole of last year so we know what they can do. It’s just one or two technical things that need to get sorted. I think there’s been an uproar because we’re so proud of our scrums and we’re certainly not happy with the way we scrummed last weekend. But I’m sure it will be fine next weekend.”

There is a tendency in rugby for teams to work incredibly hard on where their weaknesses have been exposed the previous week, to the detriment of what have been strengths before and sides are often surprised in another department, having fixed a problem area.

Fortunately the Springboks know that their lineout was no great shakes last weekend either, and the return of the masterful Matfield has seen them also put in a lot of work in that department.

“Our set-piece must work, that’s the bottom line, we have to secure our own ball and put pressure on their’s. We’ll have to wait and see who the coach picks and whether we’ll have five jumpers or four, but we also have to wait and see who Australia pick.

“James Horwill is a very experienced lock but he hasn’t been playing, while Rob Simmons has been there for a while. We also have to see which loose forwards they choose … ” Matfield said.

If there was a university of rugby, Matfield would have several Masters degrees and the veteran lock pointed out that the Springboks must not be distracted by all the rave reviews the All Blacks are receiving for upping the tempo of their game another notch in thrashing Australia 51-20 at Eden Park.

“First of all we have to focus on Australia and people musn’t forget that the same team that played in Auckland drew with the Mighty All Blacks two weeks ago on home soil. Plus the Waratahs won SuperRugby, so they’ll still be pretty confident and very competitive.

“We have to play to our strengths and control the pace of the game. We must make it quicker when we want it faster but also be able to slow it down and make it more of a set-piece battle. Rugby is all about who controls the pace of the game,” Matfield said.

Matfield’s long-time Bulls team-mate Morne Steyn has a crucial role in this regard and is expected to be back in the number 10 jersey for the match against the Wallabies in Perth.

“I don’t think the number 10 jersey is necessarily mine, every day I have to work hard and I can’t relax with the young guys coming through, but as the link between the backs and forwards, it’s mostly up to the scrumhalf and me to control the pace of the game. We want to set the pace,” Steyn said.

The Stade Francais player said he felt Handre Pollard had had two solid outings in the flyhalf position.

“It’s not always nice being on the bench, but I thought Handre did great. I do sit down and talk to him about small things, obviously I’m not coaching him but a young guy like that can always learn little things and wherever I can help, I do,” Steyn said.

Even a player of Steyn’s experience – the 30-year-old earned his 58th cap against Argentina – found it a daunting experience to twice be thrown into the deep end off the bench and steer the Springboks to victory against the rampant Pumas and he admitted he was looking forward to the pack getting into gear.

“I think the forwards will scrum better and go forward next weekend,” Steyn said while casting a knowing smile in Matfield’s direction. “In Salta we needed more momentum and we needed to get back on the front foot, which makes it much easier for the backline. I hope it will be much better in Australia, but we saw last year what we can do overseas and we have the confidence to do well over there.”

Lest we forget, the last time the Springboks were in Australia, they pounded the Wallabies 38-12 in Brisbane and that was with a weaker backline and no Matfield.

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